What is Chamaecyparis?

Ken Black
Ken Black
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Chamaecyparis is a genus of conifers often called false cypress. These evergreen trees are characterized by their slow growth and ability to withstand dry conditions. While there are approximately 20 species of true cypress, there are only eight species in the chamaecyparis genus. The eight species in the genus are largely considered to be ornamental trees, and are popular in yards and other landscaping designs.

In the wild, the species of the chamaecyparis are mainly found in North America, Japan, and Taiwan. In the Far East, bonsai artists often choose the species for the ancient art form. In the United States, they are often used as hedges or wind breaks because of their dense vegetation. They are also considered to be very attractive trees and respond well to various cultivation techniques, as well as pruning. Often false cypress trees are often called white cedars in the United States.

One species of chamaecyparis, the Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), has been named as one of the top 75 great plants for American gardens by the American Horticultural Society. Its natural shape is conical, and it has fern-like branches that droop slightly toward the end. The foliage is dark green and it is very easy to keep alive in a variety of climates, able to withstand temperatures of -10 F (-23 C). The plant can also be groomed to hedge height, if desired.

Many of the species of chamaecyparis are well suited for bonsai work because they can be easily shaped into different forms. While the Hinoki is one of the species that can be used, and often is, others are more suited to the task. Another bonsai, called the sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera) is often used in bonsai work.

These trees can grow very large, and often must be continuously maintained and pruned in order to make them suitable for hedges or wind breaks. Therefore, if owners are not capable, or do not have the desire to put the labor into them, they can grow beyond their original intended use. Depending on where they are planted, they may become nuisances if power lines or other buildings are nearby.

Caring for chamaecyparis is relatively easy. Trees should be planted far enough apart that they do not interfere with each other. While they can be cultivated in dry areas, unlike a true cypress, most prefer a soil that is moist, but not saturated. Soil that is kept too wet can promote root rot.

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